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    james hrynyshyn said:

    All well and good, but none of this history gives support to the notion that Christianity is a friend of science today.

    Indeed, it seems the facts as laid out by Prof. Hannan’s review suggest the precise opposite of the idea that science and religion can work well together. He notes that the two are compatible when science does not challenge anything consequential. So long as science sticks to abstract notions, everyone gets along. But as soon as science challenges anything the churches care about, trouble rears its ugly head.

    In the U.S., in the 21st century, there is no doubt that certain religions work hard to oppose the teachings of evolutionary biology and to a lesser extent, climatology, in public schools. Then there is the hostility of many religions, including Hannah’s cherished Catholic Church, to homosexuality, family planning and other social issues that owe their growing acceptance in secular society in no small part to science.

    Whatever went on in the distant past, it hard to take seriously the idea that religion is on the whole a force for good when it comes to the scientific arena.

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    Anthony Fejes said:

    I’m not buying the apologetics above.

    (Please note that in the comment below, I am criticising the arguments made in the post above, not the person making the arguments.) 

    Religion is the application of faith – belief without evidence – whereas science requires the use of testable hypothesis to disprove theories resulting in belief only with evidence.  As long as any religion makes a claim that can be tested – and science is able to make a statement as to the veracity of the claim – then science must be accepted over religion.  To do otherwise is a rejection of reality.

    The issue is that the church is now busy playing a game of "catch-up", where by science finds consensus on issues such as evolution, climate change and even astronomy, and the catholic church is placed in the position where it has to accept that the bible is not the authority on the subject at hand.  That is to say, the bible can not be litterally interpreted to understand the universe.  However, that leads to a slippery slope where the far end of the slope requires acknoledgement that the bible isn’t accurate about real world phenomena that are testable…. so why would you trust it’s view on the untestable claims either?  (For examples of testable claims, look up the bible’s "cure" for leprosy, it’s classification of whales as fish, slugs melting as they move, the existance of unicorns, etc)

    That places the catholic church in a bind, for which the end result is that the mideval literal interpretation has slowly mellowed out to our more liberal interpretation that no longer requires us to stone adulterers in the street, burn witches, give away all our posessions and stop eating shellfish.

    So, here we are, able to look back and say (paraphrased) "The catholic church wasn’t so bad because it didn’t burn people for undertaking science".   Well, no, perhaps it didn’t, but it certainly was the reason that science was repressed for hundreds of years during the dark ages.  Yes, scientific inquiry was stifled by the church, who promoted that the bible held all of the answers and that doing science was to doubt the bible.

    Just to refute some of your claims above, the heavy plow was known in antiquity, described by Pliny, and the horse collar didn’t appear in europe until 920 AD at the end of the dark ages, imported from the Far East.  Neither one was invented in Europe.  Crop rotation was known to the romans in the form of a 3-field rotation and made a resurgence in the 700’s, but the real benefits came from the 4-field rotation including nitrogen rich crops, which wasn’t invented till the 1700’s.  Watermills, apparently, were first invented by the romans in all three forms – I had to look that up.

    So, to sum up the above, I reject the evidence for any significant innovation during the dark ages, a time when the church suppressed learning so that it could maintain the sole monopoly on the best way to interpret the bible, and I reject your premise that the church sits in perfect harmony with science.  Neither one would be an accurate statement, as far as I can tell.

    I would also challenge the point that religion is an intellectual study.  Although much science was done while Europe was under the thumb of the catholic church, what lasting intellectual contributions have ever been made solely from studies of the bible? Other, of course, than the prediction of the end of the world… this Saturday, isn’t it? (-:

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    Ragu Kattinakere said:

    I have to disagree for you give no substantial proof to believe what you say. In general, religion is very different to different people and has been far and against science, like everything else of its kind! 

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    Mike Fowler said:

    It’s clearly tricky to present a convincing argument for an old discussion that apparently requires an entire book (at least) to elaborate, within the couple of hundred words of a blog post.

    Unfortunately, this post just comes across as a rather extended advertisement, rather than a well researched, well supported history of the relationship between science and the christian church (as it only seems to be christianity that has any focus here). As scientists, we’re used to having some citations to back up seemingly controversial statements, so we can check the veracity of claims ourselves. Even bloggers include citations in their posts. They are sorely lacking above.

    It’s unfortunate for the author that commenters can so easily refute some of the points laid out above. I hope he’ll make an appearance to try to elaborate further on these criticisms. As it stands though, this post has even failed as a successful advert. I don’t want to buy a book that can so easily have its main arguments shredded – even allowing for the limitations of the format.

    Perhaps an important point is that the church was historically the most powerful political entity across Europe (and the richest). Without easy access to other resources/funds, how could people interested in studying science do so, unless they relied on the church? None of this says anything about the existence of supernatural beings, but speaks clearly about socio-political structures in place at the time.

    But it’s fun to note that even 12th C. French biblical artists didn’t seem to think their God was perfect enough to be able to design a universe without the help of some very basic human design tools…

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    Shaun Ogden said:

    It’s true that Giordano Bruno who was found guilty of heresy was burned more for his pantheism than his scientific beliefs though clearly they had some part in it. Science and religion have always been strange bedfellows with the former claiming absolute truth and the latter occasionally more arrogant than evidence warrants has occasionally been as narrow minded as religion. Science has flourished alongside religion providing it did not impinge on these absolute truths.  One suspects that early Greek astronomy was crippled by threats of impiety against religion. The scientific revolution came about because religion lost much of its control over the state, through secularism, not because religion became more tolerant.  The issue is not the relationship between faith and religion, but against dogmatic authority and reasoned doubt. Many believers in string theory, a mathematical construct which has yet to find empirical justification could be said to have faith in their beliefs, but they do not declare this to be the only true view of the world, nor would anyone be found guilty of heresy if they object to it.

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    Tim O'Neill said:

    "I’m not buying the apologetics above."

    Books of ‘apologetics’ tend not to get shortlisted for the Royal Society prize for science writing.  What Hannam’s book (which none of the commenters appear to have read) details may be news to the average person, but it isn’t exactly radical to anyone with even an undergraduate grasp of early science.  All Hannam has done is popularise the work of leading historians of science in the Medieval and Early Modern periods; esteemed experts like David Lindberg, Ronald Numbers and Edward Grant.  I realise it doesn’t fit with the simplistic high school level picture of the period in question, but most high school level conceptions of the Medieval world are also based on Nineteenth Century myths.

    "the catholic church is placed in the position where it has to accept that the bible is not the authority on the subject at hand.  That is to say, the bible can not be litterally interpreted to understand the universe. "

    This is a weird comment, considering that the Catholic Church does not and has never taught a "literal" interpretation of the Bible.  That is a distinctly recent and entirely Protestant phehomenon.  Any talk of a "mideval (sic) literal interpretation" makes no sense – Medieval theologians read the Bible with no less than four levels of exegesis, of which the literal was the least important and not applicable to all texts.  Some here seem to be operating from some flawed assumptions and total misunderstandings.

    "So, here we are, able to look back and say (paraphrased) "The catholic church wasn’t so bad because it didn’t burn people for undertaking science".   Well, no, perhaps it didn’t, but it certainly was the reason that science was repressed for hundreds of years during the dark ages."

    "Repressed"?  That would be news to Nicole d’Oresme, Albrecht of Saxony, Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, Jean Buridan de Bethune, Theodoric of Fribourg, Roger Bacon, Thierry of Chartres, Gerbert of Aurillac, William of Conches, John Philoponus, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Nicholas of Cusa and any number of other Medieval scientists, all of whom were churchmen and all of whom examined the physical world entirely unmolested or "repressed" by the Church.

    "Just to refute some of your claims above …"

    If you read what he actually wrote, he did not say these things were invented in Medieval Europe.  Just that their widespread use – far wider and more effective than in Roman times – revolutionised agrarian production in the Middle Ages, making vast tracts of northern Europe which were barren in the Roman Era into highly productive farmland.  If you want to try to "refute" that then good luck.  You’re going to find this is elementary common knowledge with anyone who has the most basic grasp of economic history.

    " I reject the evidence for any significant innovation during the dark ages, a time when the church suppressed learning so that it could maintain the sole monopoly on the best way to interpret the bible"

    And your "rejection" seems to be based on a combination of ignorance and some ideological bias.  Actually reading Hannam’s book or the works of the scholars he draws on might help.  What he says above is commonplace stuff to anyone who has studied the work done by historians of science in the last 60 years or so.  Though those who prefer to cling to comforting Nineteenth Century myths might want to avoid this material for fear they might learn something.

     

     

     

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    Tim O'Neill said:

    "It’s true that Giordano Bruno who was found guilty of heresy was burned more for his pantheism than his scientific beliefs though clearly they had some part in it."

    And you feel this is "clear" based on … what, exactly?  Evidence please.

    "One suspects that early Greek astronomy was crippled by threats of impiety against religion."

    Another assertion based on shaky foundations.  You "suspect" this?  Got any evidence for that one as well?

    "The scientific revolution came about because religion lost much of its control over the state, through secularism, not because religion became more tolerant."

    A statement that assumes a high level of earlier intolerance of scientific inquiry.  Something you will have trouble demonstrating once you move beyond glib statements about what is "clear" and what you "suspect".  The verb in action here seems to be "to assume".

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    Mike Fowler said:

    Tim:

    And you feel this is "clear" based on … what, exactly?  Evidence please.

    I think your plea for evidence is exactly what some of the comments above are asking of the author of this post. As I mentioned above, science bloggers are used to providing citations in their posts as well as their academic papers. You’ve provided more ‘citations’ to some potential sources (well, names at least) in your comments than James Hannam did in his post.

    The commenters are in general commenting on the post above, not the book.

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    Humphrey Clarke said:

    Mr Ogden writes:

    "The scientific revolution came about because religion lost much of its control over the state, through secularism, not because religion became more tolerant."

    I think a degree of secularism was indeed helpful – e.g the Royal Society wisely excluded discussions of religion and politics from its meetings. However religion was fundamental to the development of the scientific revolution. The debates about heliocentrism, the development of a new philosophy of nature, the establishment of a new concept of laws of nature and discussions of the scope and limits of human knowledge (important for the development and advocacy of experimental science) were all undertaken based on theological presuppositions and religions commitments. 

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    Shaun Ogden said:

    Some of the trial documents of Giordano Bruno are lost to us, but a summary of proceedings was rediscovered in 1940, "II Sommario del Processo di Giordano Bruno, con appendice di Documenti sull’eresia e l’inquisizione a Modena nel secolo XVI", edited by Angelo Mercati, in Studi e Testi, vol. 101. One of the charges was ‘Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.’ The crippling of Greek astronomy, simply read Greek history, though I accept others may disagree with my assertion regarding its cause. It is difficult to believe that burning the entire library of Alexandria by religious bigots was an act of tolerance, just as imprisoning Galileo and later house arrest for life could be seen as church tolerance.

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    Humphrey Clarke said:

    Shaun raises an interesting point which is the significance of Bruno’s scientific beliefs at his trial. It’s true that the pluarity of worlds is raised as a nagging concern in the document cited – though it is the only natural philosophical issue among a host of religious charges.

    The problem with viewing Bruno as a proto-scientist is that he was really a religious reformer who was propersising what he thought was new revelation of divinity to return to the natural religion of the Egyptians.. He picked up much of his natural philosophy from Thomas Digges – one of the first to expound the Copernican system in English. In particular he was enamored with the idea that the universe is filled with an infinite array of stars; each one like the sun and that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. In his own writings however he really falls back on theological propositions rather than natural philosophy. The theme of his ‘On the Infinite Universe and Worlds’ is not Copernicanism but pantheism, a theme also developed in his ‘On Shadows of Ideas’, and which would come to influence Baruch Spinoza. His belief in infinity and the existence of innumerable worlds is not a scientific treatment, rather it is based on the principle of plenitude, that an infinite cause – God – must have an infinite effect and there can be no limit to his creative power. He also liked the idea of a magic and vitalistic universe with planets that move through space of their own accord and are animated by the divine life – an extension of the Hermetic gnosis. It was his personal cosmology which informed his espousal of Copernicus, not the other way around. 

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    Humphrey Clarke said:

     ‘It is difficult to believe that burning the entire library of Alexandria by religious bigots was an act of tolerance’

     

    I’m afraid this one is a myth (recently given a new lease of life by the movie Agora)

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    David Tyler said:

    "It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system; and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe away."

    This is certainly how I read the history of the rise of science.  One could add many more names to this list.  It is a mistake to compartmentalise science and faith – the pioneers of science saw their science as an outworking of their faith.  I welcome Hannam’s analysis as providing a refreshing perspective on these matters.

    "It was only during the "enlightenment" that the idea took root that Christianity had been a serious impediment to science."

    Yes, the metaphysics of science has changed with time.  The word "enlightenment" was chosen as a polemical device.  After this time, the myth was spread that Christianity spreads superstition and the "warfare" between science and Christianity became mainstream.  However, the real superstitions are the inventions relating to the Flat Earth, scientists being persecuted by Christians, and the misidentification of Greek philosophy (notably Aristotelianism) with biblical Christianity.

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    Tim O'Neill said:

    "The commenters are in general commenting on the post above, not the book."

    And they were doing so from a position of ignorance.  That’s not an insult – it’s merely an observation based on the fact that most people’s conceptions of the Middle Ages are based on antiquarian myths.  This is particularly true for popular conceptions of science in the Medieval period.  When I mention that one of my specialisations in the study of Medieval history is the study of Medieval science most people think that is a contradiction in terms.

    This is because the systematic and objective study of the Medieval period only got off the ground in the Twentieth Century and many of its total re-evaluations of the earlier, post-Enlightenment denigration of this period as a "dark age" have yet to filter down into popular consciousness.  The popular conception of the period as one where the Church "suppressed science" comes from two amateur Nineteenth Century works by Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper, both of which presented what is now called the Conflict Thesis, also known as the White-Draper Thesis, of a "perpetual warfare" between science on one hand and religion on the other.  White and Draper catalogued what they claimed were the countless examples of science being "suppressed" by religion.

    Unfortunately, like most amateurs with an agenda, their research was poor and in places it was downright fraudulent.  Modern professional scholars have rejected the Conflict Thesis.  As Gary Ferngren writes:

    "The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule." (Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction, p. ix)

    So, as I said above, what Hannam does in his (academically aclaimed) book is synthesise the work of the modern historians of early science and present it in a popularly accessible form – something which is long overdue. Works such as David C Lindberg The Beginnings of Western Science, or God and Reason in the Middle Ages and The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages by Edward Grant are superb pieces of scholarship by the leaders in the field, but they are also dense academic monographs rarely read by non-specialists.  Hannam’s book has made the work done by the leading academics more accessible to the general reader.

    Some general readers seem to rather like the comfort of the old myths, however, because they appeal to some deeply ingrained prejudices.  As an atheist myself, I often find myself coming up against people on atheist forums who insist that the Medieval church banned human dissection, taught the earth was flat and burned anyone who speculated about the physical world.  When I give them detailed evidence to show all this is wrong, many, to their credit, change their minds and go do some proper up-to-date research.  Others however don’t seem to want to have their minds changed.  With some so-called "New Atheists" we seem in danger of a new form of ignorant fundamentalism forming.  It’s a worrying trend.

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    Scott Black said:

    I couldn’t agree more.  Science and Religion must coexist together.

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    Anthony Fejes said:

    Just a quick point or two for Tim O’Neill:

    1) I critiqued the blog post above, not the book.  I have no opinion on the book as I have not read it.  The blog post, however, makes claims that can be checked.  I checked them and reported on my findings above.

    2) Please explain to me the catholic view on the communion wafer.  Is it litterally the flesh and blood of Jesus, as indicated by the bible?  (Just because they don’t accept every principle in the bible litterally, it does not mean they do not accept ANY part of the bible as literal truth.  Hence, my point about the slippery slope.  What do they do when they decide that NONE of the bible is the literal truth?)

    3) Your argument appears to be "because I can name some non-repressed scientists, then the repression of scientists did not happen."  Frankly, I don’t know many of those great minds you’ve listed, and I don’t doubt they are great, but can you possibly name a few that did their work between, say 600AD and 1100AD?  The ones I checked were all clearly after the dark ages, towards the end of the middle ages.  You can also give me dates for each period, if you’d rather use your own dating system.  Perhaps this is a miscommunication.

    4) And finally, the author suggested that the dark ages were a time of innovation and progress.  Thus,  I think my point stands, as borrowing an innovation from your neighbor does not count as innovation and progress.

    As an aside, strawmanning me as an ignoramus or ideologue doesn’t actually help your case, though I did enjoy ithe irony.  Perhaps you might learn to refute the claims made, instead of the person making them.

     

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    James Hannam said:

    Dear Anthony,

     

    Thank you very much for responding to my blog post.

     

    The first part of your post has nothing to do with history or my blog, but seems to assume that religion is something that can be wished away. Copious recent work has found that it is part of human nature, most recently the meta study carried out by Barrett and Trigg at Oxford. The sensible thing would be to accept this and try to work with moderate religious traditions to find allies against those that have not come to terms with the modern world. 

     

    So, here we are, able to look back and say (paraphrased) "The catholic church wasn’t so bad because it didn’t burn people for undertaking science".   Well, no, perhaps it didn’t, but it certainly was the reason that science was repressed for hundreds of years during the dark ages.  Yes, scientific inquiry was stifled by the church, who promoted that the bible held all of the answers and that doing science was to doubt the bible.

    By the “dark ages” I assume you mean the period that historians call the early Middle Ages or late antiquity. Even Bryan Ward-Perkins, who has launched a powerful argument for a traditional understanding of the fall of the Roman Empire as a disaster rather than a transformation, doesn’t use this phrase without scare quotes. In his summary of the literature at the start of The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation, Ward-Perkins (an atheist) makes clear that Christianity did not bring about the fall of Rome nor did it cause any "dark ages". Plenty of scholars, including Chris Wickham’s general survey for Penguin, make this abundantly clear.

     

    It is true that there was not much science in the early Middle Ages. This was because the empire was overrun by hordes of illiterate barbarians. As Richard Fletcher explains in The Barbarian Conversion, Christianity was a key part of the package with which the accoutrements of civilisation such as literacy and international relations, were reestablished. And despite the lack of cutting edge science, as Stephen McCluskey shows in Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, the church wasn’t holding anyone back. More recently, Brian Eastwood’s Ordering the Heavens has shown in exhaustive (and if I’m frank, exhausting) detail just how deep curiosity about astronomy was at Charlemagne’s court. Around 400AD, St Augustine had famously warned Christians not to make pronouncements about science that they knew nothing about or they’d look foolish to their pagan neighbours. Similar advice might be given to those who seek to pronounce on history without any familiarity with the scholarly literature.

     

    Just to refute some of your claims above, the heavy plow was known in antiquity, described by Pliny, and the horse collar didn’t appear in europe until 920 AD at the end of the dark ages, imported from the Far East.  Neither one was invented in Europe.  Crop rotation was known to the romans in the form of a 3-field rotation and made a resurgence in the 700’s, but the real benefits came from the 4-field rotation including nitrogen rich crops, which wasn’t invented till the 1700’s.  Watermills, apparently, were first invented by the romans in all three forms – I had to look that up.

    All this is quite true, which is why I did not say they were invented in the early Middle Ages. However, their widespread adoption did lead to increases in agricultural productivity and population. Being open to outside ideas is an example of an innovative society, especially if the inventions are modified and improved. Niall Ferguson has recently popularised the theory, long held by economic historians, that the relative declines of the Chinese and Islamic worlds after 1500 was precisely because they turned inwards and did not adopt innovations made elsewhere. The opposite occurred in Europe where the compass, printing and gunpowder were also developed well beyond the state they reached in the East. We can couple this is spectacles, mechanical clocks, whippletrees and other European inventions that just didn’t catch on elsewhere.

     

    The blog post is, of course, a puff piece for a book. I was very lucky that, although the book is intended to be a popular exposition of material well known in academic circles, my publishers allowed me almost 100 pages of endnotes and bibliography. Anyone interested will find plenty of background material, including the primary sources, there.

     

    With best wishes

     

    James

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    Tim O'Neill said:

    I critiqued the blog post above, not the book.

    That was understood.

    Just because they don’t accept every principle in the bible litterally, it does not mean they do not accept ANY part of the bible as literal truth

    Fine.  But if they can and did accept that it can be interpreted allegorically, morally and/or eschatologically rather than figuratively then that means they aren’t boxed into any literal reading as the only way to read a given passage or text.  This means that if a text reads like it is saying the earth is flat and rational inquiry shows it isn’t, the text can be interpreted non-literally.  The Catholic Church did and still does teach that no interpretation can contradict objective fact.

    As you would know if you’d read the book or the scholarship Hannam is popularising, this meant the parameters for rational inquiry in the Middle Ages were actually extremely wide, with very little off limits.

    Your argument appears to be "because I can name some non-repressed scientists, then the repression of scientists did not happen.

    No, my argument is that no scientists at all were suppressed, as that long list of esteemed Medieval scientists who practised their analysis of the physical world unmolested shows.  For the whole 20+ years I have been studying this stuff I have been asking people to give me an example of the Medieval Church suppressing any scientist at all.  So far no-one has come up with a single one. 

    can you possibly name a few that did their work between, say 600AD and 1100AD?

    Sure – mainly Byzantine ones like John Philoponus, Isidore of Miletus, Anthemius of Tralles, Michael Psellos and Gregory Choniades.  Despite being every bit as Christian and the West, the scholars of the Eastern Empire kept ancient learning alive.  In fact, if you have ever read an ancient Greek scientist at all it’s because a Byzantine or Nestorian clergyman copied his work for you – this is where the Arabs got them from and so eventually passed them back to the west.  The absence of scientists in the west in the same period had nothing to do with Church repression and everything to do with the total collapse of civilisation in the west with the fall of the Western Empire.  When things in the west revived in the Twelfth Century, science (and all other learning) began to flourish again.  Thanks to the knowledge <b>preserved</b> by churchmen or rediscovered by them.

     

    the author suggested that the dark ages were a time of innovation and progress.  Thus,  I think my point stands, as borrowing an innovation from your neighbor does not count as innovation and progress.

    Eye glasses, the mechanical clock and the printing press are three of the most influential inventions in human history.  They are all Medieval inventions.  There are no records of experiements in manned flying machines in the whole of Greek and Roman history.  A Medieval monk successfully flew a manned glider from the church of Malmesbury Abbey in 1125 AD.  Sounds pretty innovative to me.

    strawmanning me as an ignoramus

    You don’t seem any more ignorant when it comes to this subject than most people.  If you aren’t an ideologue then perhaps you can accept that you haven’t studied the subject matter in question, that your impressions may be wrong and that reading an acclaimed book short-listed for the Royal Society prize for science writing might be a good place to begin some research.  As I said, anyone familiar with the modern scholarship on the matter recognises that Hannam is simply passing this research to the average reader.

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    James Croft said:

     You say 

    The award of the Templeton Prize to the retired president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, has reawakened the controversy over science and religion.

    You then immediately claim:

    Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason.

    I agree with both statements. But in this situation it is clearly you who is misunderstanding the issues. You begin by promising to tackle the "controversy over science and religion", but immediately shift to talking about "the relationship between faith and reason". These are separable questions – they are not at all the same. That you conflate them at the start of the article and veer between the two throughout demonstrates your confusion regarding this issue (this is a common failing of those who wish to maintain a cosy relationship between religion and science).

    The rotten fruits of this confusion are evident in this statement:

    "The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. "

    The "clash of creationism with evolution" is best seen as a clash between faith and reason: the creationist position rejects reason and evidence and essentially assumes creationism must be true and seeks to find "evidence" to support that a priori commitment. The relationship of Christianity (broad institution, including much more than simply the Christian faith) to the "history of science" is really the other question, about the relationship between the human institutions and practice of science and the institutions and practice of religion. Here, of course it is possible to paint a rosy picture.

    But the fact that scientific and religious practice can coexist does not disprove the notion that faith and reason are fundamentally antagonistic. By tangling these issues in a messy skein you have shown that you misunderstand the central issues.

    If this is the sort of sloppy thinking we can expect from your book, it certainly won’t be on my shortlist.

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    James Hannam said:

    Hi James,

     

    Faith isn’t always about believing without evidence or about a priori commitments. It’s usually a question of trust. In English of course, we have the phrase, “good faith” meaning a state of mutual honesty and trust between parties. 

     

    There is no reason why trust should be incompatible with reason. But a creationist trusts the Bible more than Richard Dawkins. This is understandable. Dawkins & Co are opposed to the very fabric of his life. New atheists cry their agenda to extinguish religion from the rooftops. They declare themselves to be theists’ mortal enemy. They call their opponents all sorts of rude names. And then they wonder why religious people don’t believe them. The creationist rejects the evidence because he doesn’t trust the person giving it to him and increasingly doesn’t trust the entire apparatus of science. Science without good faith is utterly impossible. 

     

    There is now so little good faith in the evolution/creation dispute that a resolution looks almost impossible. Evolution is so tainted by its association with atheism that for many religious believers it is a huge effort to examine it objectively. It’s like asking a Palestinian to trust the word of an Israeli (or vice versa) on a land dispute. And yet, new atheists keep trying to make matters worse. 

     

    My blog post was supposed to be good news. Look, I said, things aren’t as bad as you thought. Science and religion have got on fine in the past, even helped each other. It doesn’t have to be like it is now. Good faith might still win through if we show a little more understanding; spread a little credit where it’s due. But many commentators here didn’t want to listen to that. They know sweet FA about history but they are damn sure that the church held back science. That’s the bad sort of faith – preconceptions trumping the evidence which, as you said yourself, you are not even prepared to look at. And many people here wear their hostility to religion on their sleeves.

     

    If you want to win a debate, you can bludgeon your opponent with arguments. But if you want to win someone over to your point of view, you need to get them to trust you. That’s why science and religion have to get on. And that’s why some of the attitudes on display in this thread are actually damaging to the cause of science.

     

    Best wishes

     

    James

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    James Hannam said:

    I posted with paragraphs but the software appears to have removed them all.  Apologies for the resulting thick wodge of text.

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    James Croft said:

     Faith isn’t always about believing without evidence or about a priori commitments. It’s usually a question of trust.

    Maybe so, but this is not a distinction you make in your article, which does not define the terms "faith" or "reason" or "science" or "religion". My point is simply that they are all different, and shouldn’t be confused, as you confuse them repeatedly here. 

    The creationist rejects the evidence because he doesn’t trust the person giving it to him and increasingly doesn’t trust the entire apparatus of science.

    This is understandable but not intellectually respectable. If I were to say, in response to your arguments, "I reject the evidence you present in your book because I do not trust Catholic converts" you would be rightfully appalled at my closedmindedness. The evidence against creationist views is strong regardless of ones opinion of Richard Dawkins.

    Evolution is so tainted by its association with atheism that for many religious believers it is a huge effort to examine it objectively.

    1) Then they should make the effort. 2) You demonstrate your religious privilege here by talking of association with atheism as a "taint". There’s nothing about an atheistic position which should be viewed with suspicion – it’s a perfectly respectable component of a worldview.

    Science and religion have got on fine in the past, even helped each other. 

    One may accept this (as I do – I didn’t seek to challenge it) and still recognize that faith (at least by certain definitions) is incompatible with reason (again given certain definitions). Incidentally, the way by which you’ve moved from talking about "faith" to talking about "good faith" (which is quite different) demonstrates another sort of semantic slipperiness we should be wary of.

    That’s the bad sort of faith – preconceptions trumping the evidence which, as you said yourself, you are not even prepared to look at.

    But I don’t contend the point when it comes to science and religion. I contend the point when it comes to reason and faith, and your lack of distinction between them. You are not reading me carefully.

    if you want to win someone over to your point of view, you need to get them to trust you. That’s why science and religion have to get on. And that’s why some of the attitudes on display in this thread are actually damaging to the cause of science. 

    There’s a huge non-sequitur here: that the only way to gain the trust of religious people is to ensure that "science and religion get on". There are ways to present the naturalistic perspective that are positive, inspiring and charming, but which do not compromise central scientific values like the reliance on reason and evidence.

    My central point, which you have not countered here, is that we can make the case very easily that scientific and religious practices and institutions have coexisted for centuries without touching the question of whether religious faith (not "good faith") is compatible with reason.

     

     

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    james hrynyshyn said:

    Prof Hannan betrays his ignorance of the field when he generalizes about the "new atheists." Do they really all "declare themselves to be theists’ mortal enemy" and "call their opponents all sorts of rude names?" Of course not. Richard Dawkins has been known to throw around some epithets in private circles, but his writings, even on the science-religion divide, are hallmarks of diplomacy and generosity.

    Do they "know sweet FA about history but they are damn sure that the church held back science"? Of course not. Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, are all perfectly capable of holding their own in a debate on the history of the subject.

    The fact remains, as Hannan himself lays out in his book, that religion and science can coexist quite fine, so long as religion doesn’t wander into the realm of science. But that is, when you think about it, a rather trite observation. Most "new atheists" would love to see religion fade away, but they know that’s not going to happen any time soon. That’s why they focus their efforts on those areas where there is, and always will be, conflict. Like evolution and creationism. It’s not the war between atheists and religion that’s interesting or consequential. What matters is the war between those who want educational and social policy to be based on reality and those who prefer our schools, clinics and society in general to operate according to fantastical notions of how the world should work.

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    Anthony Fejes said:

    Hi James,

    Thank you for replying to my comment – it has helped me to clarify my understanding of your position.

    To reply, I will first disagree that my original opening statement had nothing to do with your blog or your book.  The fundamental tennet of your post (as I understand it) is that science and religion (or as James Croft eloquently put it: faith and reason), are able to co-exist.  However, religion is grounded in the belief that the supernatural can affect the natural.  The catholic church endorses this perspective every time it creates a new saint, confirming to the public that someone was cured via a miracle, or some such claim.  Unfortunately, each time the church does so, it is essentially claiming that science is wrong – and incompatible with religion (or faith in the religion).  Meanwhile, each time scientists understand a phenomena that was previously associated with god (Rainbows, earthquakes, "falling stars", pestilence, plague, etc), it leaves one less way in which the natural can be assigned a supernatural cause. (ie, chipping away at the God of the Gaps argument)

    Thus, I find that they are not compatible, simply on the face of the claims made.  Did Pope John Paul II really cure a nun of parkinson’s disease simply by praying?  Why does praying for a cure not apply to other illnesses or patients? (There have been a plethora of papers attempting (and failing) to show the power of healing prayers, if you’re inclined to research this further.)

    Moving along, by Dark ages, I meant the period before the 12th century renaisance, also known as the late middle ages.  Since the examples given above were all from the dark ages, I had assumed you were referring to the period before the 12th century.  The 12th century renaisance was marked by exposure to the arabs in spain as well as the middle east – where great works of antiquities had been maintained. I realize this is not my area of specialization, so I was simply surprised that your "puff piece" blog column was, at least, unclear about which period you were discussing.

    I still also have an issue with "innovation" being the adoption of someone else’s technology – but perhaps that’s simply intended to be a throw away line to hook people’s interest in the book.  While I would agree that innovation began to take place during and after the subsequent 12th century renaissance, I also associate it with the dismantling of the feudal system, the waning leadership of the pope in relgious matters (it is hard to deny that from the time of the east-west schism to the reformation, that many of the popes were more interested in earthly posessions and power than in leading the flocks), and the slow creep of influence from other societies, where science and discovery had leaped ahead of that found in the christian nations. Obviously, it’s an oversimplification, but I believe you’ll see the point: Accepting an innovation that depends on technology that disagrees with the tennets of your religion is simple, compared to accepting the underlying science that disagrees. (eg, see fundamental christians and modern medical science.)

    Of course, to be clear, I hadn’t assumed that the fall of rome was caused by christians specifically.  It’s a wonderful topic for debate, otherwise, and includes such fantastic elements as the romans’ use of lead pipes, pressure from hordes migrating across the asian stepes and the collapse of the political system of rome.  As it’s well outside of my area of expertise, I’ll leave that particular issue asside – but rest assured I was not assuming the christians as the root cause.  Just because I am an atheist, it doesn’t mean that I assume religion is the source of all ill that exists in the world.

    In any case, It was also absolutely unnecessary for you to specify that Ward-Perkins was an atheist.  That seems to imply I’m more likely to believe an atheist than a christian, as an appeal to an authority that you expect I would believe.  Let me assure you that I am happy to believe christians or atheists alike based solely on the quality of their work, and biases notwithstanding, do not believe one’s work has greater merit than the other.

    So, perhaps I might sum up the core of our disagreement:  You appear to suggest that innovation was widespread in 12-14th century europe and peacefully co-existed with religion.  Whereas, I would suggest that the introduction of innovation and science imported from other cultures spurred on the slowly waning influence of the church, as the litteral interpretation of the bible became a less and less tennable position, which eventually forced the church to drop some of its more falsafiable claims.

    I will see if my local library has a copy of your book, to see if I agree with the, hopefully more nuanced, points you draw from the 100’s of pages of endnotes.

  25. Report this comment

    Anthony Fejes said:

    Tim O’Neil,

    1)  "The Catholic Church did and still does teach that no interpretation can contradict objective fact"

    Great.  That’s a fantastic start.  If that is true, then one would have to take the entire bible as an allegory, in which case, what is the point of the church? 

    2)  "For the whole 20+ years I have been studying this stuff I have been asking people to give me an example of the Medieval Church suppressing any scientist at all.  So far no-one has come up with a single one." 

    I have two counter arguments for this.

    a) if there was a scientist that was suppressed for his work, the church would have burned records of it, excommunicated the scientist, or worst case had the budding scientist killed for heresy.  How exactly do you expect people to prove that no scientist was repressed, when the repression itself would have been covered up? 

    For the record, I’m not saying that there was a scientist that was repressed – I’m simply pointing to the flaw in your argument.  I also can’t tell what you ate for breakfast, if you’ve washed all the dishes and cleaned up when you’re done.

    b) For 20+ years, I’ve been asking religious people to describe their god, and demonstrate that it does in fact exist.  So far no-one has come up with a single shred of evidence.

    As we’re both asking for evidence that the other can’t possibly provide, should we both agree to accept each other’s points?  (I actually don’t have a problem accepting that the church did not repress renaissance scientists, as I’ve not seen evidence either way.  I just don’t think there WERE scientists during the dark ages because the early church restricted evidence that contradicted the bible – see Copernicus for a renaissance scientist afraid to publish because of retribution from the church.)

    On to your other points: the eastern orthodox empire simply resisted external pressures for longer,and didn’t fall prey to the scholarly blight for a few more years.  So yes, there were scientists there…  My original point stands:  Among the western Christian nations (ie, those actually experiencing the dark ages), actual innovation did not take place after the collapse of the roman empire until the start of the 12th century renaissance.

    Also, despite your praise for the church in preserving documents,  many of the manuscripts of the ancients were scraped clean and re-used for meaningless church documents, which were then preserved and only recently was the technology developed to be able to read them- so we shouldn’t celebrate all of the "preservation" work of the church.  Though, no doubt, some of them did survive because of it.  Still, please tell me if the church has ever purged documents that disagreed with it’s teaching.  (Ahem.  the Liborum Prohibitorum was developed immediately after the invention of the printing press.)

    Finally, I’m not certain what you would like me to say.  You are correct that I haven’t made this a specialty of my research – and I have no problem admitting that I likely know less about many aspects oft this argument than you or James Hannam – but as a member of the public (the audience to whom this book advertisement  is targeted), I believe I have every right to cite conflicting evidence – with the full expectation that you can explain my errors.  While Hannam is "simply passing on " information, it might make a much better selling point if he explained why his points are worth listening to where they contradict other scholarship on the same matter.

     

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    Tim O'Neill said:

    Great.  That’s a fantastic start.  If that is true, then one would have to take the entire bible as an allegory, in which case, what is the point of the church?

    I suggest you ask a Catholic – I’m an atheist.  I’m just trying to correct some misconceptions you have which are getting in your way of a correct and objective view of history.

    if there was a scientist that was suppressed for his work, the church would have burned records of it, excommunicated the scientist, or worst case had the budding scientist killed for heresy. …. the repression itself would have been covered up

    No, it wouldn’t.  The Church made no bones about its repression of "heresy" and did so loudly and publically to discourage other "heretics".  So while your imaginary suppressed scientists’ work may not survive, references to their supression would have.  Such suppression was, by its nature, a very public affair.  And well documented.  Inquisitions were very good at paperwork, which is why the detailed registers of inquisitorial investigations are such great resources for researchers today.

    For 20+ years, I’ve been asking religious people to describe their god, and demonstrate that it does in fact exist.

    That’s nice – see above about me being an atheist.  I can’t see the relevance of this to your argument.  If you conclude that their inability to produce evidence of a god is an indication that there isn’t one then what does the inability to produce evidence of any suppressed Medieval scientists tell you?

    we’re both asking for evidence that the other can’t possibly provide

    You should be able to provide evidence for your imagined suppressed scientists.  I don’t have to provide evidence for any "god" because I’m an atheist.  Be careful what you assume.

    I just don’t think there WERE scientists during the dark ages because the early church restricted evidence that contradicted the bible

    If you are using "dark ages" to refer to the period from 500-1100 AD, I’ve already explained why there were few scientists then – there were few scholars of any kind then in any field.  Advanced learning of any kind was one of the casualties of the collapse of Roman civilisation in the west.  After the west began to recover economically (thanks to the adoption of that agrarian technology), we see a revival in all learning.  And a flowering of Medieval science.

    see Copernicus for a renaissance scientist afraid to publish because of retribution from the church

    Another myth.  Before Copernicus died he was strongly encouraged to publish his work by Bishop Tiedemann Giese of Culm and by Cardinal Nicolas von Schoenberg.  The latter wrote to him on 1 Novermber 1536:

    "With the utmost earnestness I entreat you, most learned sir, unless I inconvenience you, to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars"

    Three years earlier Pope Clement VII was so intrigued by reports of Copernicus’ new model that he invited the visiting scientist Johann Widmastadt to give a public lecture on the subject in the Vatican gardens and was so delighted by the lecture that he rewarded Widmanstadt with the gift of a rare Greek manuscript.  Does all this sound like the Church giving Copernicus anything to fear?  As the eminent historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald numbers show in a joint authored article: "If Copernicus had any genuine fear of publication, it was the reaction of scientists, not clerics, that worried him".  And that’s because he knew there were still major scientific objections to his theory, which there were. I think you’d benefit from reading the whole of Lindberg and Numbers’ article, actually.

    the eastern orthodox empire simply resisted external pressures for longer,and didn’t fall prey to the scholarly blight for a few more years.

    What "external pressures"?  And how is it that I could give you the names of several scientists from various centuries in the range you presented to me if the East didn’t fall prey to this imaginary "scholarly blight" you’ve dreamed up for "a few more years"?

    actual innovation did not take place after the collapse of the roman empire until the start of the 12th century renaissance.

    Yes, that’s what tends to happen when your whole civilisation collapses.  It might take a while for us to get back to the level we are at now if our civilisation collapsed and all we had to work from is some hand copied pages from an encyclopaedia and a couple of Bill Bryson books.  What you need to explain now is why, if the lack of science in the preiod pre-1100 AD was caused by "Church suppression" or something, did the Church suddenly become so bad at suppression after 1100 AD; a period when its power was actually at its height?  Your attempted arguments aren’t making much sense.

    many of the manuscripts of the ancients were scraped clean and re-used for meaningless church documents

    You seem to be basing this statement on a sample of one – the Archimedes palimpsest.  To leap from one example to "many" requires some more evidence.  Since I’ve had exactly this discussion with others several times before, I know you won’t be able to back that claim up.  All kinds of manuscripts got recycled, including church texts.  That’s because parchment was expensive stuff.  To pretend there was some systematic or even widespread practice of scraping clean works of science in particular is simply a fantasy.  As I noted, if you’ve read an ancient scientist at all it’s because some Medieval monk didn’t scrape a manuscript of his work clean, but painstakingly copied it letter by letter to preserve it.  

    please tell me if the church has ever purged documents that disagreed with

    No-one said they didn’t.  Just that they didn’t "purge" these works of science.  That’s because, as you would know if you do some reading on the subject, they didn’t disagree with Greek and Roman science at all – they revered it.  James Hannan’s book might be a good place for you to start.

    I have every right to cite conflicting evidence – with the full expectation that you can explain my errors.

    See above – happy to do so.

    it might make a much better selling point if he explained why his points are worth listening to where they contradict other scholarship on the same matter.

    That sort of thing usually requires a book rather than a brief guest blog post.  Luckily, Hannam has written just such a book, with full notes and an extensive bibliography.  If what he says in his summary above didn’t happen to fit with your preconceptions about a subject you haven’t studied and in which he has a PhD from one of the best universities in the world, maybe it would have been better to question your preconceptions.

     

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    Lee Turnpenny said:

    ‘The award of the Templeton Prize to Lord Rees is a small step in the right direction.’

    How so? Because it provides succour to those – including, it seems, yourself – who(still) consider that the purpose of science is to explain ‘How God did it’? This is as misleading as much of the apocryphal history you descibe.

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    Na Yeo said:

    Creationists like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton and Maxwell have a lot to answer for!

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    Charles Freeman said:

     In a debate on his book under its English name ’God’s Philosophers’ ( a search ‘Charles Freeman God’s Philosophers’ will bring it up), James Hannam, in a response to a critique I made of his book, states that even before he had finished his Cambridge PhD on humanism in Oxford and Cambridge in the sixteenth century (note that there is nothing here on the subject of his book), he had changed his mind about the positive effects of humanism and presents a completely different picture in God’s Philosophers. Unfortunately he provided no sources for his view that the humanists were ‘Incorrigible reactionaries’. It is sad he did not do so because his view is a critical part of his argument and goes against all conventional and recent scholarship in this area. His PhD seems to be irrelevant therefore and it does not seem to have taught him that we would expect source citations to support arguments. There are many problems with his book which I have explored in my critique, with source citations for my own views!!

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    Shaun Ogden said:

    Copernicus was certainly urged by some members of the Catholic faith to publish his work, this does not mean that the church tolerated his views. The Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of publications prohibited by the Catholic Church; its aim was to prevent the reading of immoral books containing theological errors. The first version the Pauline index was set up by Pope Paul 1V in 1559 banning the works of some 550 authors, this index was formally abolished on the 14th June 1966 by Pope Paul V1, it included the scientific works of many authors.  Pre-publication censorship was encouraged, though authors did have the opportunity to defend their work and were at liberty to submit revised versions for scrutiny. It made it difficult for people living in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland to obtain these books, fortunately the rest of Europe was free to read much of this literature. The list of people’s work on this index does not support the view that the Roman Catholic Church encouraged science or come to that any free thinking. It included the works of Johannes Kelper, Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei, Frances Bacon, Ren’e Descartes, Konrad Gessner, Otto Brunfels, Blaise Pascal and many others. Philosophers were equally unpopular with Voltair, Diderot, Rousseau, Kant, Hume, Lock, Sartre and many others making it onto the list.

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    Mike Fowler said:

    @James Hannam: thanks for showing up and elaborating on some of these points.

    @Charles Freeman: thanks for pointing us to the New Humanist series of articles about this book.

    For anyone interested, the first review by Charles is linked here. A couple of responses by James H and Charles F are linked within the first article.

    Your further historical background on these issues made very interesting reading for this simple, modern scientist 🙂

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    Epi Nephron said:

    <blockquote>Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet.</blockquote>

    No, but Popes have made anatomy difficult by decrees against the dismemberement dead Crusaders, which was generalised to all human remains by those interpreting the words.  Whether intended or not, it had an effect on the study of anatomy.

    <blockquote>No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas.</blockquote>

    Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake, and it is likely in part due to his scientific claims, though the nominal reason was heresy.  Given that many athiests have professed similar beliefs (e.g., that Christ was a skillful manipulator/magician rather than divine) as a result of taking a skeptical view of biblical claims, one could say that a skeptical/scientific mindset is potentially the ultimate cause of his execution.  

    Other clashes between science and religion can be highlighted – the belief in man, created in God’s image conflicts with the fact that we evolved.   

    Was religion good for science?  Maybe in one sense, that of funding – but those funds may well have come from other sources.  There are fabulous pieces of art and music that have religious themes, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t have similarly good art without these influences.  We can’t very well engage in "what ifs" about this; we might have seen lesser or greater artistic works, but we do know that art need not be religiously motivated to be stirring, nor does science need to be religiously fuunded to make progress.

    Has the church shown itself to be anti-science in modern times?  Yes – when the science contradicts their beliefs, they have.  In making claims that condoms make the problem of AIDS worse, and that condoms are permeable to HIV the church has made claims that are in direct conflict with the existing science, and has done so to support their moral stance.  The fact that the church does make such claims shows that it can easily become a force opposed to science, as it has over other issues such as evolution, heliocentrism, etc.  

    As to the relationship between religion and science, I believe that the essential conflict between religious faith and skepticism is a barrrier.  At some level, accepting that there are things beyond our realm and explanations that are not accessible to us is an anti-scientific belief.

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    Humphrey Clarke said:

    On the human dissection issue; according to Katherine Park in ‘Galileo goes to Jail’ there is no evidence that Pope Boniface VIII had human dissection in mind when he issued ‘Of detestable Cruelty’ – it was the practive of boiling the flesh off the bones to enable distant burial of crusaders which was objected to. She says there was an indirect impact on anatomy due to the misunderstanding – but only among a certain group of anatomists in Northern Europe (there was negligible effect in Italy) and even here the greats such as Guy de Chauliac in France seem to have had no hesitation about dissection at all. Around the same time reliquaries (consecrated recepticals containing parts of the body of a saint or relative) proliferated which further suggests the ban was ineffective. 

  34. Report this comment

    Humphrey Clarke said:

    Regarding the ‘Librorum Prohibitorum’; this is often used to illustrate the conflict between science and religion and it has been suggested that it had a chilling effect on science in Southern Europe. 

    I think there are three issues with this.The first point is that religious and magical works were the primary target of the index so it doesn’t appear to fit into the science vs religion narrative; perhaps a religion vs religion narrative since protestants used natural philosophical ideas in their polemics – e.g the mechanical philosophy against the doctrine of trans-substantiation. The most direct attacks were against astrology and alchemy.

    Secondly it never appears to have been consistently enforced – commerce in magical texts for example flourished in Italy despite Papal Opposition and their placement on the index. Scientific and philosophical works were imported privately.

    Thirdly – with regard to the chilling effect on natural philosophy – Jesuit science flourished in Catholic Europe. The Jesuits published over 6,000 scientific papers and texts between 1600 and 1773 including a third of those on electricity. They were by far the largest scientific organisation in the world. However it could be argued that they adhered to the Tychronic model for as long as they did due to the prohibition (teaching it as a hypothesis rather than a true model) and that the index made the intellectual climate more difficult. 

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    Edward Davis said:

    Let me echo what Tim O’Neill has been saying: James Hannam’s book is bringing viewpoints and conclusions from some of the best modern scholars to a wider readership. This doesn’t mean that all of the experts would agree with everything in his book—scholars often disagree about the "big questions" (and Hannum’s book is about some of them), just as scientists often disagree about how to design certain experiments and what the results of those experiments really mean. But, I do see here some ideological resistance to the idea that Christianity had quite a bit to do with shaping the scientific enterprise. I’ve had some similar scepticism directed at me, for a blog on a related theme elsewhere (http://www.testoffaith.com/resources/resource.aspx?id=623).

    As Mr O’Neill points out, there is abudant evidence (with documentation) for the sorts of things stated in this blog. But, you need to read the book to get a sense of what that evidence is and what his sources are. It’s said here that science bloggers want to see posts with lots of documentation, but scientists write short articles rather than lengthy books. Historians often put their scholarship into books (as well as articles), and most books are just not readily available to read for free on the web. The author can’t reprint his book or its extensive notes and bibliography in a blog post, and I don’t think it’s realistic for him to back up his comments with links to web sources that might or might not be as reliable as the sources he cites in his book.

    In short, there is no substitute for reading the book itself.

  36. Report this comment

    Edward Davis said:

    The article by David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers that Mr O’Neill linked is one of the best summary statements of why historians have decisively rejected the "warfare" or "conflict" view of the history of science and religion. I see echoes of that view in a number of the comments on this thread, esp those which just can’t entertain the idea that deep hostility between religion and science has not been the norm.

    As scientists well know, ignorance about science is widespread, even among otherwise well read and quite learned people. The same is true concerning the history of science, including historical interactions involving religion. What Lindberg & Numbers were saying in the 1980s (when not many others were saying it) is widely accepted among historians of science & religion today: the "warfare" view tells us more about those who proclaim(ed) it than about the actual history it purports to narrate. Numerous books of the "warfare" type are still published today, but they aren’t usually written by people with the relevant expertise—that, is people who have spent years working with the primary historical sources (the equivalent of "data" in the sciences). Rather, they tend to be written by journalists, scientists, philosophers, and others who don’t actually produce original scholarship in the history of science.

    This ought to tell you something.

     

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    Charles Freeman said:

     The problem with James Hannam’s book is that it does not represent even the sources he, and some of his supporters, claim that he is reproducing. Lindberg quite rightly starts with the Greeks and shows the breadth of their achievement. Hannam does not even seem to know much about the Greeks.  On page 104, he notes (as Aristotle’s fellow Greeks did) that Aristotle was sometimes wrong. He goes on ‘And if Aristotle could be wrong about something that he regarded as completely certain, that threw his whole philosophy into question. [Did it really- anyone out there who knows something about Aristotle agree with that?] The way was clear for the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages to move decisively beyond the achievements of the Greeks’.  You can see how the argument fails completely here, both in his statement about Aristotle but with the implication that Aristotle ‘was’ Greek science. The idea that if Aristotle was wrong about something then the medievalists could move on beyond Greek science is simply ridiculous. The innocent reader is given no idea of the Greek Achievement, and, as a result, unlike in Lindberg’s book, thinks that the Medievalists achieved more than they really did. ( I am partly on Hannam’s side on the progressive Middle Ages but the ‘scientific’ progress seems mainly to have been in the Italian city states where there was a much more hands-on approach that there was in the rarefied atmosphere of Paris and Oxford.)

    The Conflict thesis is a red herring. There was no clearly defined community of ‘scientists’ in the Middle Ages so one could hardly have had a conflict. You need to look more broadly at the Catholic Church’s attitude towards new ideas in general. This became much more repressive in the paranoia that followed the Reformation. 904 items on the Index in 1559,1,143 new headings ADDED in the Clementine Index of 1596,then it was up to 11,000 items by the early eighteenth century, In fact outside Venice, Italian publishing virtually died, largely because no one dare publish. Sources- the excellent chapter on censorship in  Christopher Black’s The Italian Inquisition, Yale University Press, 2009, Gigiola Fragnito (ed.) Church ,Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy, Cambridge University Press, 2001- especially good as following a fine introductory survey  by the editor, there are specific chapters on areas of learning. (N.B. Our knowledge has been revolutionised since the Vatican Archives were opened in 1998, so any work before that is now superseded.) 

    Hannam’s views on the humanists as ’incorrigible reactionaries ’ who were simply interested in Greek and Latin literature (p. 212), is backed by no sources and goes against all contemporary scholarship.  It is, in fact, simply bizarre. It is an important part of his argument as he claims that the humanists covered up the achievements of the medieval natural philosophers which is why he is having to rescue them. The evidence that science developed in many ways through the humanists, as contemporary scholarship suggests, is glossed over. Even more oddly, he claims that Galileo based his work on the natural philosophers but a) John Heilbron, the foremost biographer of Galileo, can find no evidence for this -see his excellent new biography, Oxford University Press, 2010 b) Edward Grant, who Hannam claims as a supporter, specifically says in his Science and Religion, 400 BC to AD 1550, Johns Hopkins Press, 2004, p. 11, that it was Galileo who was the worst offender in denigrating the medieval natural philosophers.

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    Humphrey Clarke said:

    Hi Charles – first of all congratulations on the publication of the new book.

    As I think I have said before I not sure you really want to claim Edward Grant in your defence here when we are talking about Galileo’s influences or the legacy of medieval thought. 

    Referring to Grant’s ‘God and reason in the Middle Ages’ – p136 – he says that William of Heytesbury (1313 – 1372) gave sound definitions of uniform motion and uniform acceleration and made the earliest known statement of the mean speed theorem. Grant writes ‘Galileo employed it in this form and in virtually the same manner’ p137. Moving on, John Buridan, Albert of Saxony and Marsilius of Inghen all invoked a similar thought experiment to deny a moment of rest p 169. Galileo repeats the same argument in On Motion.

    Despite building on this legacy Galileo speaks out against the scholastic tradiion – why? Grant writes (p310) 

    ‘Galileo’s reports should not be seen as also representative of behavior by scholastic natural philosophers in the late Middle Ages. Such an interpretation would be a gross distortion of the realities. It is well attested that medieval natural philosophers diverged from Aristotle on many points of natural philosophy. Moreover, they frequently criticized his conclusions, basing their arguments on reason and the testimony of the senses.’

    Then on p364 he writes:

    ‘The idea, and the habit, of applying reason to resolve the innumerable questions about our world, and of always raising new questions, did not come to modern science from out of the void. Nor did it originate with the great scientific minds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, and Newton. It came out of the Middle Ages from many faceless scholastic logicians, natural philosophers, and theologians, in the manner I have described in this study. It is a gift from the Latin Middle Ages to the modern world, a gift that makes our modern society possible, though it is a gift that may never be acknowledged. Perhaps it will always retain the status it has had for the past four centuries as the best-kept secret of Western civilization.’

    So Edward Grant is firmly in the Hannam camp.

     

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    Humphrey Clarke said:

    Just re-reading Hannam’s response to you, he notes that John Heilbron’s new biography of Galileo does acknowledge his debt to medieval ideas on pages 130 and 137. Did you have a chance to look at that (i’m afraid I don’t have a copy).

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    Charles Freeman said:

     Hi, Humphrey. Thanks- it is great to see Holy Bones out at last.

    I wouldn’t want to claim Edward Grant  in my camp. His God and Reason in the Middle Ages does not say anything much about Italy where I think reason was most fully developed (especially in areas such as the application of reason to law and commercial transactions). Grant does not even consider what Dante, the greatest Christian  poet of the Middle Ages,thinks about the matter!

    Grant has written a good deal and we can quote for and against each other but if I take p. 290 of his God and Reason in the Middle Ages, he writes ‘In the Middle Ages, reason was employed in an abstract and often a priori manner, and was frequently applied to hypothetical arguments and examples with little relevance to the real world. By contrast, nonscholastic, or better antischolastic ,scholars,in the seventeenth century, beginning with Francis Bacon, and continuing on through a stellar list of natural philosophers and scientists, laid great emphasis on empirical evidence as a control on pure reason.’ You will know Peter Harrison’s The Fall of Man and the Foundation of Science where Harrison argues that even as late as the seventeenth century Augustine’s view that humankind had been diminished by the Fall to such an extent that even the use of reason was damaged ( compare Aristotle on this one of the big contrasts between the classical philosophers and those Christians influenced by Augustine is the confidence, or lack of it, they show in the power of reason) and this encouraged ‘scientists’ to concentrate on the accumulation of empirical evidence and so launch ‘science’. I am not convinced by his evidence for this but he seems in the Grant camp and they both seem to agree that it was the emergence of empiricism that was important, something that was broadly lacking in the Middle Ages. It was the humanists who began observing things it was  Leonardo, bizarrely dismissed by Hannam on p. 7 of his book, who created the first detailed drawings of dissected bodies . As readers of this blog will know better than a mere historian such as myself, you can’t have any science without objective observation and this was a feature of the Greek scientists, of course, but not really seen again until Leonardo and his successors. This is why I can’t take Hannam’s view that the humanists were reactionaries- there is a mass of evidence to show how they pioneered the reappearance of scientific thinking – and much else besides in fields such as history, education,theology ( Erasmus) civilized living in the city, etc,etc.

    I have already replied to James Hannam on Heilbron. As I said pages 130 and 137 contain an IMAGINARY conversation  between Galileo and an alter ego, Alexander, so it can’t be used to say what Galileo really thought . The most telling part of this excellent biography, so far as this debate is concerned, is the long list that Heilbron gives of people who influenced Galileo and the medieval scholastics are not among them. Galileo was a humanist, he talked endlessly with people  and learnt from them. Heilbron brings out brilliantly his curiosity- he was a man who thought for himself and was acutely empirical as well. If you look at the totality of Galileo’s work , there is very little you can claim from the Middle Ages.

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    Charles Freeman said:

     Humphrey- again in response to yours.

    1) One major difference between Edward Grant and James Hannam is on Aristotle. As I noted above, Hannam seems to believe that Aristotle WAS Greek science. This is strangely quite a common idea among Christian apologists.  I came across the following statement in Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason, which must be one of the most misleading ‘Christianity brought civilization’  books ever written,: ‘Ultimately ,Greek learning stagnated of its own inner logic. After Plato and Aristotle, very little happened beyond some extensions of geometry (p. 20)’ You would not believe that this sort of thing gets written and even worse, taken seriously, Hannam, in the quotation I provided above, seems to come close to suggesting something very similar and his claim that it was the Middle Ages where the Genesis of Science (the US title of his book) is to be found suggests that he knows nothing of the Greek achievement.  Oddly enough there was already a book out with the same title (by Steven Bertman) that provides a very good introduction to why the Greeks can lay claim to providing the ‘genesis of science’.

    Furthermore  Hannam routinely disparages Aristotle. Edward Grant ,on the other hand, gives full space to the Greeks  in his Science and Religion, 400 BC-AD1550, and of Aristotle he says: ‘Aristotle is probably the most significant figure in the history of Western thought up to the end of the sixteenth century. The range of topics he treated in his extant writings is extraordinary, and the wisdom and insight he reveals is rather amazing for someone who lived in the fourth century BC. (p.37). This is quite a dramatic contrast between Grant and Hannam and shows that Grant places Aristotle above any medieval thinker. Sadly ,despite its closing date, Grant’s book does not deal with the Copernican revolution but what he does say of Copernicus is that ’ his monumental treatise of 1543 marked the beginning of the end for the medieval world-view. With the proclamation of a heliocentric planetary system, Copernicus began [sic] the intellectual process that led ultimately to Galileo, Johannes Kepler , and Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century’. Here again Grant clearly diverges from Hannam’s view that it was the medieval natural philosophers who provided the springboard for Galileo. (Note too the quotation I provided above from Grant on the contrast between medieval reason and empiricism.) While I get annoyed with Grant for not including anything much about science/reason in Italy in the Middle Ages, he is overall quite conventional in the way he sets out the history of science (proper recognition of the Greeks, contrast between medieval logic  and seventeenth century empiricism).

    2) I should have added that in the imaginary conversation composed by Heilbron (last posting), I can find very little evidence of much that Galileo took from the medieval philosophers and certainly Heilbron does not overtly make the case. He concentrates instead on the immediate contact Galileo has with the polymath Paolo Sarpi. For those who have not read Heilbron I strongly recommend it not only for the details of Galileo’s life and work but for a sane and considered view of his trials. Reviews online will back this out for those interested.

    I came in on this post solely to challenge the assertions made in earlier posts that Hannam represents new thinking on these subjects. He does not. I know no scholar who backs his assertion that the humanists were ‘incorrigible reactionaries’. We have also been having a discussion of this blog on Butterflies and Wheels under the heading ‘Trouble rears its’ starting on May 19th.

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    Shaun Ogden said:

    Sources of inspiration and referencing sources wasn’t always the practice. Galileo mentions Archimedes as the divine master and Aristotle often to dismiss his ideas. Likewise, Copernicus mentions Philolaus in De Revolutionibus but not Aristarchus of Samos who’s views on a heliocentric system were likely influenced by Philolaus and who’s work Copernicus would have been aware of. A Frova & M Marenzani, Thus Spake Galileo (1998) p437 give a view that Galileo borrowed from the work of Benedetti about bodies in free fall, his example of the moving ship from Giordano Bruno and from Fracastoro & Benedetti ideas about the mechanisms of sound. I think that the origins of the heliocentric view are to be found in Greek pre-Socratic science and not from Aristotle who lampoons Philolaus in Metaphysics.

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    Charles Freeman said:

    Interesting on Copernicus- I had not heard that theory- I wonder if Philolaus came back in with the Platonists in the fifteenth century.

    Heilbron credits Benedetti’s (1530-90) Physical and Mathematical Speculations as one of the three major mathematical influences on Galileo, the other two being Christoph Clavius (1537-1612) and Guidobaldo del Monte (1543-1607) (Heilbron, p.6).

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    jason cross said:

    Dear James Hannam, I will admit that I have spent most of my life under the misconception that the church did everything in it’s power in the past to slow down and hold back the development of science. I believed that this was done in an attempt to keep the church as a central power and prevent people from becoming more self-reliant and self-aware. However, after reading your blog entry, I can honestly say that my eyes have been opened on the subject and will admit that I have a new found respect for the church, especially after hearing what all they did in the name of science. Its a shame that so many lies and rumors have persisted to this day about the church, ranging from persecution, all the way to the burning of human bodies. I was surprised to find just how much they actually supported science and helped so many scientific discoveries come about. I would just like to thank you for helping to end my unfortunate ignorance in the subject of the church and science.

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